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British Heart Foundation
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TENS Machine and heart problems

I haven't used my TENS machine in a few years but my spine has got so bad I need it now. The instruction book says it shouldn't be used if you have heart disease. Does anyone use one after a heart attack? IT seems to focus more on an erratic heart beat like AF. I will askGP of course but can't even get a phone call until Wednesday.

22 Replies

I imagine it could be a problem if there is you have an irregular heart rhythm or have a pacemaker fitted. Best to wait to hear what your GP says or call your rehab nurse.


Managed to get hold of t he practice nurse; no problems as I don't have an irregular heart beat. The problems are mainly with A FIb and pacemakers. Also te area affected is away from my heart.



I use a TENS machine. I live with vasospastic angina.

I put my pads on my back 2 above my bra strap and 2 below it does help with the referred angina pain I experience.

The nerves that lead from the heart join spinal nerves that enter the upper back, thoracic spine and then join the spinal cord which carries the pain signals to the brain.

Women in labour put the TENS pads lower on their backs as the spinal nerves from the womb uterus join the spinal cord in the lower back lumbar spine

All pain signals travel up the spinal cord to the brain. There is a Gate theory of pain developed in the 1980's by Melzack and Wall.

Trans electrical nerve stimulators are thought to work by blocking some of the pain signals travelling up the spinal cord as well as stimulating the production of endorphins the body's natural pain relief.

I have found conflicting evidence about their use with Pacemakers and Atrial Fibrillation which is just not helpful for those with pain as TENS can be so useful.

Until there is research based evidence there is no option but to recommended TENS are not used in these situations.


I've used a TENS machine for over 20 years for fibromyalgia but when I developed nerve pain in 2002 I found it just irritated those nerves no matter what frequency I used. Now , however the pain is unbearable and I need something t o help rather than taking ever increasing doses of opiates. The worst is Lumbar spine so its' well away from my heart and I don't have any problems with erratic beats or AF. Trying it now and so far, so good. My machine is very old now so if I can tolerate it I'll get a more modern, smaller one that you can just stick on without having wires trailing or a belt because it's really difficult to reach.


I hope it helps.

Pain has such a negative impact on the quality of our lives.

I only use morphine when I am in hospital so I understand your concerns about using opiate based pain relief.

I wish you less pain in your life!


Many thanks. I've been on opiates since 2002 having gone through everything else which either made me sick or didn't work at all . Trouble is your body gets used to them so the dose just increases; slowly so far but I don't want it any higher. CBT, MIndfulness etc all help you cope but don't ease the pain; just eh way you deal with it. I'm now 99% housebound and can't even sleep in my own bed now. I have to be in a recliner chair. It doesn't help you cope with new problems like a heart attack and of course, severe pain puts your BP up and means you can't exercie to help the heart. The rehab nurse just wrote me off.



I am so sorry to read this.

I am under the joint care of Cardiology and the Pain Management Team. The Cardiologists don't understand pain and how to treat it.

I use CBT and Mindfulness too to help with the emotional pain that accompanies my physical pain.

Would be able to do any exercises sitting in your chair?

You can do Chair yoga?


I thought so but not according to the rehab nurse apart from which I can only use one arm properly. I found cardio knew absolutely nothing about pain. Last time I was in I couldn't even get my painkiller on time. IT should be every 3 hours; didn't have teh staff to give it out so I was often crying by the time they got round t o it


I want to cry with you!

And they wonder why we develop post traumatic stress disorder???


My GP doesn't believe that exists


Time for a new GP?


No, he's very good otherwise and there are about 7 in the practice.

1 like

Tell that to the thousands of Military that suffer the diagnosis


I have used Tens over 25 years and had a h/o PAF, not once did the Tens precipitate an attack. The current runs the shortest distance between the electrodes, so as long as it is not used over the heart, nor by a person with a pacemaker it is safe. There is much reassurance on line. Tudee


Thanks, yes that's what the practice nurse said


This source should give you all the information you need, with further resources to obtain the knowledge you need: - patient.info/health/painkil...


As I said I've been using one for 30 years or so. It says not to be used with certain types of heart disease which means everyone shoudl check with their GP


Your reply begs the question -

1 The instructions say you should not use the machine with certain heart conditions where you answer your question by qualifying that this means: -

Everyone should check with their GP

2 You have mentioned in two responses that your GP practice nurse has advised you ;

No problems as I don't have an irregular heart beat. The problems are mainly with A FIb and pacemakers. Also te area affected is away from my heart.

3 Your last reply now makes no sense what so ever:-

The information is on pretty much every instruction book and is the reason I asked.

4 I am now totally bewildered and lost for words


And the problem therefore is ?


I got my question answered by the practice nurse thank you. The instruction book didn't explain which conditions would be a problem with A TENS machine. It said to "check with your doctor if you have any heart problems." The nurse did explain . If you use a pacemaker or have problems with the heart rhythm, you should not use a TENS machine. Seems simple enough to me.


A further comment from that source I gave you states the following: -

Can TENS machines be used by everybody?

TENS machines tend mainly to be used to help reduce pain from problems in muscles, joints and nerves (so-called musculoskeletal pain). They may work better for these problems than for tummy (abdominal), chest or head pains. Unlike a lot of medication there are virtually no side-effects when using a TENS machine. However, people with the following must not use a TENS machine:

When the cause of the pain is not known or is not diagnosed.

Pregnancy (unless specifically medically advised - or in labour).


Epilepsy or certain types of heart disease.


That information is on pretty much every instruction book and is the reason I asked.


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